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Ethics of the intelligence profession – What is the ethical framework of a real intelligence analyst?

Dr Giangiuseppe Pili, Dr Francesco Margoni


The new project on the intelligence studies – “What is the ethical framework of a real intelligence analyst?” has the potential to substantially contribute to one the most debated topics in the intelligence studies literature, that is the ethics of the intelligence profession. Our approach is relatively new according to what we found in the literature. The aim of the project is to explore the research question – what is the analysts’ ethical framework in their own view – from a quantitative rather than purely qualitative perspective.

Project Title – Ethics of intelligence profession

Subtitle – What is the ethical framework of a real intelligence analyst?

Research Question – What is the analysts’ ethical framework in their own view.

Research Project – Here the document!

Researchers and Institutions – Dr Giangiuseppe Pili (Organizational Committee, Intelligence Lab – Calabria University), Dr Francesco Margoni (Post-Doc, Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences – University of Trento).

Project Roles – Dr Giangiuseppe Pili (Intelligence Scholar & Responsible for the intelligence component of the research), Dr Francesco Margoni (Moral and Developmental Psychologist – Quantitative researcher & Responsible for data acquisition and transparency format). The role distinction is just to give the reader our main division of labor but we are both committed to the joint research in the same degree.


Our mission is to discover how an intelligence analyst frames ethically his/her profession. The current intelligence studies literature does consider ethical dilemmas explicitly – for instance Jan Goldman issued a paper in 2018 in the influential International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence presenting a set of ethical conundrums for the intelligence professionals. Other scholars considered the ethics of intelligence from a normative perspective in order to draw moral evaluation on the intelligence profession. Our goal is quite the opposite and it consists in exploring the question directly from a quantitative perspective asking to volunteering analysts how they themselves would solve those moral conundrums with other related questions we considered relevant to understand their ethical frame more broadly.


We pursue the research through a quantitative analysis based on a questionnaire we planned divided in two parts, ethical dilemmas and important correlated questions.

The questionnaire is already available online at this link:

The questionnaire is fully anonymous – we do not ask for any kind of identification or email and uncomfortable questions can be skipped (though we still hope that there will not be such reservation, but we understand them where there will be any). The data collected will be used solely and exclusively for the purpose of this study and will never be released in different forms. Responses will be aggregated at a group level and for research purposes only. The project is based only on high-academic research profile, which has only academic interests relevant for the international scientific community.

Steps of the project

  1. Establish the research question*
  2. Define the questionnaire*
  3. Collect the data
  4. Analyze the data
  5. Write the report of the analysis
  6. Delivering the products – Main outputs**

       6.1 Psychology journal paper

       6.2 Intelligence studies journal paper

       6.3 Philosophy journal paper

       6.4 Short media outputs (just the final results and discussion)

The steps identified by the “*” are already done. We are currently at step 3 – collecting the data. The step identified by the “**” is just indicative. We plan to publish three different papers, but the main goals are 6.1 and 6.2, a detailed quantitative analysis on a psychological journal of international relevance and a detailed qualitative analysis on a journal of intelligence studies of international relevance for the intelligence scholarly community.


6 months/1 year to deliver the draft of the paper to be sent to the journals.


This new project has the potential to change debate inside one of the most debated topics in the intelligence studies literature, that is the ethics of the intelligence profession. Our approach is relatively new according to what is present in the literature. Instead of giving a normative framework for the intelligence profession, we aim to ask how an intelligence analyst actually solves moral conundrums relevant to his/her own profession. Does he/she conceive them as an ordinary person would do, or does he/she conceive them differently? This is a descriptive question and its answer will lead to a better understanding of the intelligence profession as such.

Our quantitative research based on a questionnaire of 30 minutes or less. The questionnaire is based on a selection of moral conundrums that participants are asked to resolve. There are no right or wrong answers, and participants are free to give their opinions and justify them as they like.

We are considering analysts from different backgrounds and part of the public and private sectors. Indeed, even though we think there will be differences between analysts in the private and public sectors, we are searching for the common denominator and we are focusing only on the analysts – not the gatherers or the case officers for instance. Indeed, we aim to investigate moral reasoning in the analyst profession and not in all the intelligence world.

The final outputs will be two different papers – one for a psychology journal to consider and exhaust the quantitative side of the data collected and one for a journal of intelligence devoted to drawing conclusions for the intelligence scientific community.


Dr Giangiuseppe Pili –

Dr Francesco Margoni –


Giangiuseppe Pili is a former lecturer in intelligence studies in the International Master in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies (IMSISS) program at Dublin City University. He earned a PhD in philosophy and sciences of the mind and wrote his thesis on individual and social epistemology. He is part of the organizational committee of the Intelligence Lab at Calabria University. He issued a monograph on the philosophy of war. He is a coauthor of the forthcoming book Intelligence studies with professor Mario Caligiuri. He is the Co-founder and Coordinator of the philosophical association “Philosophical Action” (Azione Filosofica).

Francesco Margoni is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento. He holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology, and he is currently doing experimental research in cognitive, moral and developmental psychology. Of particular relevance, he has published a 2018 paper in PNAS reporting that very young children can distinguish between a fear-based social power and a respect-based social power (“Infants distinguish between leaders and bullies”). He is now continuing this line of research on the origins and development of the notion of authority.

Questionnaire Link

Giangiuseppe Pili

Giangiuseppe Pili è Ph.D. in filosofia e scienze della mente (2017). E' il fondatore di Scuola Filosofica in cui è editore, redatore e autore. Dalla data di fondazione del portale nel 2009, per SF ha scritto oltre 800 post. Egli è autore di numerosi saggi e articoli in riviste internazionali su tematiche legate all'intelligence, sicurezza e guerra. In lingua italiana ha pubblicato numerosi libri. Scacchista per passione. ---- ENGLISH PRESENTATION ------------------------------------------------- Giangiuseppe Pili - PhD philosophy and sciences of the mind (2017). He is an expert in intelligence and international security, war and philosophy. He is the founder of Scuola Filosofica (Philosophical School). He is a prolific author nationally and internationally. He is a passionate chess player and (back in the days!) amateurish movie maker.

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